Another idea being explored is adapting the Queensland government COVID-19 app to identify where campers travel on the island, or other national parks, and using mobile phone trackers.
Queensland’s Parks and Wildlife Service had no way to accurately identify how many people used K’gari, or where they are on the island, the Queensland’s Inspector-General of Emergency Services review of the Fraser Island bushfire found in March 2021.
Anecdotally 400,000 people visit the island each year, according to the Department of Environment and Science, which includes the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
“There is currently no means for the Parks and Wildlife Service to ascertain the daily number of visitors to K’gari,” Alistair Dawson’s March 2021 report says clearly.
“The permitting system currently requires only the permit holder to register,” he said.
“The system does not require details of all parties accessing the island under that permit. This creates challenges in fully ascertaining the numbers and location of people on the island.”
The investigation into the October-December 2020 bushfire on K’gari found Parks and Wildlife rangers drove from “campsite to campsite” to find and advise campers, the report said.
“Better use of technology such as automatic number plate recognition technology and other solutions to register people onto and off the island should be further examined to improve the responsiveness of issuing warnings to the public.”
The Department of Environment and Science says it is difficult to assess how many people are on K’gari.
It says the department issued permits for 1,311,984 camper nights over five years from July 2016 until August 2021, or more than 262,400 each year.
It also issued 3152 annual permits for 4WDs on Fraser Island and 226,761 vehicle access permits over the past five years, or an average of 45,353 vehicle permits each year.
However, K’gari is also be visited by private tour groups and there are two heavily booked private resorts on the island.
These operate independently and provide about 140,000 other visitors.
The Queensland government is now spending $5 million over four years to put in place the 38 recommendations of the Dawson Report into preventing further bushfires on K’Gari.
In Cooloola National Park cameras will be mounted on ranger patrol vehicles and random “compliance checks” ensure motorists have a permit.
The cameras scan vehicle registration plates and cross-check information with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service booking system.
“On K’gari, the numberplate recognition system will have a primary role of monitoring vehicle movements so, in any emergency, rangers will know the number of vehicles on QPWS-managed land that need to be accounted for.”